CHICAGO - Two kids and a cast-off are the keystones of the Chicago Blackhawks.
At age 22, Jonathan Toews is the youngest captain in the NHL and in the history of the Hawks. His close friend and first-line mate, Patrick Kane, is a mullet-wearing 21-year-old who looks as if he's 16. And one of the team's elder statesmen, Patrick Sharp, 28, once was a seldom-used Flyer.
As the NHL and goalies around the league have found out, Toews and Kane are defined by superior ability - not age. And Blackhawks fans will tell you the overshadowed Sharp has developed into one of the more versatile forwards in the Western Conference.
The trio had a lot to do with the Blackhawks' reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.
Toews, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound Canadian center who was named the most outstanding forward at the Olympics, leads all players in playoff points (26) and assists (19).
Kane, an undersize right winger at 5-10, 178 pounds, is tied with Sidney Crosby for the third most assists (13) in the playoffs. Kane, a Buffalo native, trails only Toews and the Flyers' Mike Richards in points (20). And Sharp, Chicago's alternate captain, is 10th in points (16).
All three are tied for ninth with the Flyers' Simon Gagne and Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg in goal-scoring, with seven apiece.
"We wanted to step up and contribute offense like we had in the regular season - and so far, so good," said Sharp, who spent time playing opposite Kane on the Hawks' first line this season before dropping down a line, where he now plays center.
"But we've said many times in the room, we don't care who scores the goals as long as we win the games and keep moving on," he said. "And that's the case right now."
During the regular season, Kane led the Blackhawks in points with 30 goals and 58 assists. Defenseman Duncan Keith was second with with 14 goals and 55 assists, and Toews was third with 25 goals and 43 assits. Sharp was fouth with 25 goals and 41 assists.
Sharp isn't the only one who downplays the forward trio's impact.
"You mention myself, Jonathan, and Patrick, but then you have to think about Big Buff [Dustin Byfuglien], who is leading our team with [eight postseason] goals," Kane said. "There is so much depth on our team. You can play on any line."
But there's no denying what Sharp, Toews, and Kane have done for the once-struggling franchise.
Playing barely eight minutes a night under then-Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock, Sharp was traded to the Blackhawks for Matt Ellison in December 2005.
Ellison played five games for the Flyers that season, with one assist, but couldn't crack the lineup. He ended up with the Phantoms.
Sharp, however, went on to score nine goals and 14 assists in 50 games with the Blackhawks that season.
Chicago added Toews with the third overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft. Kane came on board as the top overall pick a season later.
Both joined the Hawks in the 2007-08 season. Despite their different personalities and styles, their instant chemistry and subsequent success changed the franchise for the better.
Kane's playmaking ability complements Toews' nose for the net and ability to control the puck down low. Around Chicago, fans talk about them the way they used to talk about Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
The personable Kane is blessed with a quick wit and nicknamed Joe Dirt for his haircut. Toews, meanwhile, has the maturity of someone twice his age. His nickname is Captain Serious, and teammates and Blackhawks front-office personnel are impressed with his dedication and discipline.
He doesn't think folks should single out his accomplishments and those of Kane and Sharp.
"We know we're going to need different heroes, different guys to step up if we want to keep winning," Toews said. "That's what every single guy can be excited about."
Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.